The San Antonio Spurs polished off the Miami Heat on Sunday to win their fifth NBA title behind another strong performance from 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard. Wizards fans used the occasion to lament the fact that Washington could’ve — and should’ve — drafted the NBA Finals MVP instead of Jan Vesely back in 2011.
— Bernhard Samuel (@BeeSamuel) June 16, 2014
Remember when the Wizards took Jan Vesely over Kawhi Leonard? Yeah that didn’t work out.
— Patrick Toole III (@PToolethe3) June 16, 2014
Kawhi Leonard. #Wizards could”ve had that guy. They sure could’ve. Too bad ol’ Ernie couldn’t resist The Jan Vesely Experience.
— Rob Forté (@Robrarian) June 16, 2014
— Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis) June 16, 2014
How close were the Wizards to drafting Leonard? Washington held the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft and was looking to add some size to the roster after taking John Wall with the No. 1 pick the year before. The team’s three main targets were reportedly Vesely of the Czech Republic, Turkish center Enes Kanter out of Kentucky and Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania. Washington also worked out Leonard and Tristan Thompson.
The Wizards will look to Texas freshman Tristan Thompson or San Diego State swingman Kawhi Leonard if one of their three primary targets is off the board. The 6-8 Thompson said his workout with Washington went well, “then again, nobody tells you that you had a bad workout. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Leonard could provide a fallback perimeter defender for the Wizards and give the team a dimension that it currently lacks. “Defense. I pride myself on that, every night, giving my full effort,” Leonard said, adding that he is ready to take on the likes of LeBron James. “I still got improvements to make. But right now, I’m not afraid of anybody on the court. I’m a competitor.”
Kanter went third to Utah, Thompson went fourth to Cleveland and Valanciunas went fifth to Toronto. The Wizards went with Vesely and Leonard slipped to San Antonio at No. 15.
In searching The Post’s archives for all reports linking Leonard to the Wizards before the draft, I came across a Mike Wise column in which he backed Vesely as the correct choice at No. 6. Now, I didn’t write a column about the 2011 NBA draft, and if I had, there’s a decent chance I would’ve written something similarly regrettable. Anyway, here’s the pertinent excerpt from Wise’s column:
“There is talk of San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard running the floor with John Wall and making beautiful music in the open court together, that this 6-foot-7 sophomore from Compton, Calif., has all the transition tools to blend in seamlessly with this stop-and-pop roster.
But Ernie Grunfeld has to resist that temptation and go foreign.
The team president needs to do the right thing, long term, and take Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic, no matter how much of a mystery a 6-foot-11, 230-pound perimeter player from overseas is to the casual fans among us.
Grunfeld has to put aside not only old-fangled NBA wisdom, but also some of his own big men who didn’t work out as draft picks in Washington: Ukraine’s Oleksiy Pecherov, a No. 18 pick, and Puerto Rican second-rounder Peter John Ramos, a project who never matured and left town referred to as Party John Ramos. Grunfeld needs to have faith that this one will.
Rangy, athletic, there are YouTube clips of Vesely taking one dribble from beyond the three-point line and dunking from the right side in a game last season. He seems to understand angles and trajectory underneath the basket, too, unlike so many young big men.
Yes, he is a horrendous a free throw shooter, and he doesn’t appear to have the greatest hands in the world. But here are two reasons why he should be the Wizards’ first of three picks among the top 34 players chosen Thursday: He doesn’t have a buyout clause in his contract like Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, whom the team is also considering. And, most important, Vesely wants it.
I can’t emphasize the ‘desire’ intangible enough. So many players have come through Washington with the talent, athleticism and height – everything, really, that equates to an all-star down the road.
But it’s hard to measure tickers, heart, who genuinely cares and who doesn’t, until they get to the next level. At 21, I can see Vesely has it.”